It Started With Odds and Ends and Stopped with Alan Watts

I haven’t posted in a few days.  Not because I haven’t had thoughts and threads of ideas.  I have.  I always do, but nothing coalesced into a single piece.  My work schedule didn’t allow me to do much writing in that regard.  So here are some of strands, observations, and ideas I’ve had over the last few days.

I’ve been reading two books.  The first is Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.  It is part of my year of going back to classics.  This is the first on the docket.  I will also read Ulysses, continue my exploration of Faulkner and Hemingway, and drop a little Conrad and Camus into the mix this year.  However, after finishing Invisible Man I’ll probably read the Barry Hannah short story collection Long, Last, Happy to keep my Southern dirty realism run going.

The one thing had forgotten was how much I disliked the narrator.  Dislike is probably the wrong word.  I had forgotten how unreliable and naïve bordering on stupid the narrator is.  I cannot help but wonder why Ellison created this character in this way.  Maybe it was to make the character and the book less threatening and polemic then say Richard Wright.   I have to think it about more.

The other book I am reading is Alan Watts’ The Wisdom of Insecurity.  It is a wonderful and funny introduction into Eastern philosophy.  What has struck me most about it is Watts’ continuous discussion of how symbols begin to obscure what they are supposed to symbolize.  (This is where I could drop some Derrida and talk about deconstruction, but nobody wants that, least of all me.)  For example, money has come to be happiness for many people when in fact money is only a symbol of happiness for those people.  Money represents the ability to purchase more symbols of happiness which in the end do not actually provide happiness.

Even before reading Watts I have been thinking about how celebrities and other famous people have come to be symbols either out of circumstance or worse by choice.  They are not human they are these famous objects that we can talk about with impunity.  We talk about these human beings as these things (athlete, movie star, reality star, professional celebrity) because they have ceased to be human in our eyes and are only symbols.  While I believe treating people this way (even if they have asked for it) demeans us as a public, it must be hell to live your life as a thing and not a person.  Watts would say, the people who have chosen to live life like this in pursuit of the happiness they believe fame and money will provide them is illusory because there will never be enough fame or money to give them actual happiness which come to us internally.

I had other thoughts on college sports, Richard Sherman and, Sherlock, but those things have been talked, tweeted, and blogged about  to death this morning.  To go back to Watts for second, the endorphin rush from getting a lot of page clicks, follows, and retweets is not a good substitute for happiness, so adieu.

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